In this Istanbul cafe, customers order coffee in sign language, embrace deaf culture

Cem Barutçu (L) teaching Turkish sign language at the cafe.
Cem Barutçu (L) teaching Turkish sign language at the cafe.

‘demgoodcoffee' is a third-wave coffee shop located in the heart of Beşiktaş. What sets demgoodcoffee apart from other third-wave coffee shops is that it is a social enterprise supported and founded by the Dem Association, which aims to blend coffee culture with the culture of the hard of hearing and the deaf

When walking into the this unique coffee shop, nestled between Beşiktaş's famous breakfast joints, you are welcomed with smiling faces and sign language. With the use of a tablet menu, that teaches you basic sign language and how to order your coffee, communication is not a problem. We had the chance to visit demgoodcoffee to talk to Açelya Sarıkaya, a coordination team member, and baristas Burak Aşçı and Merve Öztel.

During our interview with Açelya Sarıkaya, she said that demgoodcoffee is a place where people with or without hearing disabilities can come and interact with each other. Sarıkaya continued by saying, "Slowly our customers became our regulars and our regulars became our friends and watching this process is very gratifying. We like to believe that there is no other third-wave coffee shop that embraces its customers like we do."

'The only place where you can orderyour coffee from across the street'

As our interview continued, we started talking about the meaning of "dem" and how it plays an important part in the ideology behind demgoodcoffee. Sarıkaya said, "The name of demgoodcoffee has a special meaning for us. 'Dem,' meaning brew in Turkish, comes from 'demos,' which means first human. In a Turkish saying we say, "Demlenmiş insan, olmuş insandır," which literally translates to, "A brewed person is a mature one." The belief here at demgoodcoffee is that we are returning to our original selves. We have an inside joke at the cafe, "Demgoodcoffee is the only place where you can order your coffee from across the street."

Merve Öztel (L), who was diagnosed with a congenital-hearing impairment, works at demgoodcoffee.

'It's a matter of how you identify yourself'

Sarıkaya defined the difference between "hard of hearing" and "deaf," and how to correctly approach someone with a hearing disability. She said, "Although, in society referring to people with a hearing disability as 'hard of hearing' is seen as politically correct, it is a matter of how a person identifies himself/herself. For instance, although Merve has always been referred to as being 'hard of hearing' by her family and friends growing up, she now identifies herself as 'deaf.' The same goes for Cem, he also identifies himself as 'deaf,' refusing to be referred to as 'hard of hearing.' People always assume that calling someone 'deaf' is not appropriate, but this isn't the case. This is why, when I meet someone with a hearing disability, I ask them how they identify themselves and act accordingly."

Sarıkaya explained, another one of demgoodcoffee's goals is to promote hard-of-hearing employment. Although there are jobs available for the hard of hearing, most of these jobs are passive employments, thus demgoodcoffee is trying to break these boundaries by creating new and active employment opportunities.

'Sign language has never been this delightful before'

The Dem Association, aside from demgoodcoffee, has other projects up their sleeves. Workshops and Turkish sign language courses are some of the opportunities, as Sarıkaya tells us, "We have workshops where we offer a delightful acquaintance with Turkish sign language. Our motto for these workshops is 'Sign language has never been this delightful before.' These workshops are a total of 32 hours with 24 hours of theoretical and 8 hours of practical education. With the practical lessons we aim to teach much more than sign language itself. Since the lessons take place in our office, on the 3rd floor of demgoodcoffee, students are able to experience sign language in a natural environment and, thus get very well acquainted. We don't have any restrictions for the workshops, anyone who wishes to join them is welcome."

After our talk with Sarıkaya, we sat down with two of the baristas currently working at demgoodcoffee. Burak Aşçı, 26, and Merve Öztel, 23, told us how they met the Dem Association and their personal sign language journey.

Açelya Sarıkaya (R) and Burak Aşçı (L)

'You learn the sign-language culture along with the language'

Burak Aşçı explained, "I met the Dem Association after the opening of demgoodcoffee. After a series of coincidences, I met Ayşe Damla, from the Dem Foundation, and she told me about the upcoming social enterprise. I've been working as a barista at demgoodcoffee for about a year now. Before working here, I had zero knowledge about sign language. The thing with sign language is that you learn the sign language culture along with the language, which isn't possible for spoken languages. After starting my new job, I immediately found myself among the hard to hear and Deaf, so learning the culture of Turkish sign language was a natural process. My first encounter was with Cem from demgoodcoffee, who is deaf. I was left completely alone with him to communicate, which was a struggle, but I got the hang of it quickly. Learning sign language was mandatory for me to work, so I picked it up pretty fast. I still find myself insufficient, but I'm learning something new every day. I've also learned, recently from Cem, that there are differences in grammar between spoken Turkish and Turkish sign language."

'For 22 years, I never engaged with other deaf people'

Merve Öztel: "I was diagnosed with a congenital-hearing impairment, which means I was born deaf. I hadn't met anyone else who was hard of hearing or deaf until recently because I was always surrounded with people with hearing ability. Twenty-two years passed this way, and after a while I felt something missing in myself. I became curious about other hard-of-hearing and Deaf who existed around me, but I hadn't engaged with before. At this time, I was a volunteer at the "Düşler Akademisi" (The Dreams Academy) in Ataşehir. I was hoping to meet other deaf people, but unfortunately, and surprisingly, I was the only Deaf there. From September to December I went to The Dreams Academy, anxiously awaiting for someone like me to arrive. During a New Year's event the academy was holding, a group of people arrived and I saw that they were speaking in sign language. I was excited to meet them because, like I said, I had never engaged with other deaf people before. I was also nervous because I didn't know sign language at the time. I had always communicated through speaking because of my hearing aid, so I felt like a stranger among them. I got to meet Ozan, who was also able to speak like me, and we exchanged numbers. Ozan later invited me to a gathering of the Dem Association and that's how I became a part of the Dem family. During this time, I learned sign language because I was on a deaf women's basketball team and was really eager to learn. When I found out about the plans for demgoodcoffee, I immediately accepted a job as a barista."

Become a member of the Dem Association

Açelya Sarıkaya also told us how to become a member of the Dem Association founded by Ayşe Damla İşeri and what members can do to contribute. She said, "Anyone can become a member of the Dem Association. All you need to do is fill out a form and send it to After sending in this form, the process of being a volunteer/member begins. After this, we stay in contact with the members and ask them how they can support the association. This can be helping out during the workshops and educations, or creating content for the association. The presence and moral support of our members is enough to make us happy."

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